Prosocial motives underlie scientific censorship by scientists: A perspective and research agenda

C.J. Clark, L. Jussim, K. Frey, S.T. Stevens, M. al-Gharbi, K. Aquino, J.M. Bailey, N. Barbaro, R.F. Baumeister, A. Bleske-Rechek, D. Buss, S. Ceci, M. Del Giudice, P.H. Ditto, J.P. Forgas, D.C. Geary, G. Geher, S. Haider, N. Honeycutt, H. Joshi, A.I. Krylov, E. Loftus, G. Loury, L. Lu, M. Macy, C.C. Martin, J. McWhorter, G. Miller, P. Paresky, S. Pinker, W. Reily, C. Salmon, S. Stewart-Williams, P.E. Tetlock, W. Williams, A.E. Wilson, B.M. Winegard, G. Yancey, and W. von Hippel
PNAS  120, e2301642120 (2023)

Science is among humanity’s greatest achievements, yet scientific censorship is rarely studied empirically. We explore the social, psychological, and institutional causes and consequences of scientific censorship (defined as actions aimed at obstructing particular scientific ideas from reaching an audience for reasons other than low scientific quality). Popular narratives suggest that scientific censorship is driven by authoritarian officials with dark motives, such as dogmatism and intolerance. Our analysis suggests that scientific censorship is often driven by scientists, who are primarily motivated by self-protection, benevolence toward peer scholars, and prosocial concerns for the well-being of human social groups. This perspective helps explain both recent findings on scientific censorship and recent changes to scientific institutions, such as the use of harm-based criteria to evaluate research. We discuss unknowns surrounding the consequences of censorship and provide recommendations for improving transparency and accountability in scientific decision-making to enable exploration of these unknowns. Benefits of censorship may sometimes outweigh costs. However, until costs and benefits are examined empirically, scholars on opposing sides of ongoing debates are left to quarrel based on competing values, assumptions, and intuitions.

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